Can the Democrats Get Ahead of the ‘Death Panel’ Myth This Time Around?

By
Will Obama take this one on the chin too? Photo: Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

"Lies can go viral if people use them for political purposes," said Oregon representative Earl Blumenauer in an e-mail recently. He was addressing fellow supporters of an end-of-life counseling rule the Obama administration would be adding to the health-care bill as it is inscribed into workable policy. "This regulation could be modified or reversed, especially if Republican leaders try to use this small provision to perpetuate the 'death panel' myth." The e-mail was included in an article in the New York Times over the Christmas weekend, which revealed that the White House would allow Medicare to pay doctors who advise patients "on options for end-of-life care, which may include advance directives to forgo aggressive life-sustaining treatment." Doctors may be paid for visits as frequent as every year, under the new rule. "It will give people more control over the care they receive," Blumenauer told the Times. "It means that doctors and patients can have these conversations in the normal course of business, as part of our health care routine, not as something put off until we are forced to do it."

Now that the Times has blown the lid off of this subtle maneuver, which supportive Democrats were trying to keep quiet for fear of right-wing spin, how has the conservative media reacted?

"Under the Christmas Tree This Year? The Return of Death Panels!" warns the National Review. "Obama Embraces 'Death Panel' Concept!" howls Newsmax. "Obama Brings Back 'Death Panels,'" states Fox News rather matter-of-factly, in a three-sentence article.

The problem with trying to keep something secret, Democrats, is that you don't get to get out there first with your own definition of terms. The Journal today quotes hardworking White House health-care spokesman Reid Cherlin, who points out that under the Bush administration, Medicare rules allowed for doctors to be paid for end-of-life planning. "The only thing new here is a regulation allowing the discussions … to happen in the context of the new annual wellness visit created by the Affordable Care Act," Cherlin explained. Unfortunately for the White House, nuanced statements of fact are never quite as catchy as images like: "The Government Is Going to Kill Mamaw and Pup Pup."

Obama Returns to End-of-Life Plan That Caused Stir [NYT]
White House Links New End-of-Life Talks to Bush Policy [WSJ]